Written by U.S. Army Sgt. Brent C. Powell, 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division
Khowst Province, Afghanistan – Improvised explosive devices, most commonly referred to as IEDs, have been, and continue to be one of the most deadly threats on today’s modern battlefield.
They have claimed hundreds of lives, caused thousands of injuries and are responsible for destroying millions of dollars worth of vehicles and equipment.
Every day, Soldiers who leave the wire face the looming threat of IEDs. But thanks to some modern technology and a team of civilian instructors at Forward Operating Base Sharana here, those threats may soon be minimized.
The instructors, from NIITEK Corporation, are teaching a Husky-Mounted Detection System Operators Course here, designed to help Soldiers install and use the latest available ground penetrating radar technology to locate IEDs, before they can cause injuries.When the Soldiers come to the course they are given the new equipment. It consists of a computer, monitor, all related wiring and four large GPR panels that are mounted to the front of existing Husky vehicles.
Huskies are heavily armoured, four-wheeled vehicles that route clearance Soldiers have traditionally used to find IEDs using metal detection panels located on the sides of the vehicle.
The new GPR system gives operators a three-dimensional view of objects buried in the ground. It functions much like a commercial fish finder, except it looks into the ground instead of water.
According to the course instructors, it is a huge advantage over the previous system that relied strictly on metal detection and various alert tones to try and locate possible threats.
“One of the biggest differences between the old system and this one is that now you can actually look at the IED while it’s in the ground,” said Ray L. Shanle, course instructor and native of Forestville, WI. “You are no longer in the dark listening and trying to figure out if you are over a threat. Now you can see it on a monitor in front of you.”
The 40-hour course is spread over five-days and gives the students both classroom instruction and plenty of hands-on.
“The intent of the course is to get Husky operators comfortable with the system and at a level that they can install, maintain, troubleshoot and above all effectively operate it,” he said. “We also try to get the unit’s leadership involved with the system so they will be familiar with it and it’s capabilities. The knowledge allows them to make decisions on how and when to best implement the new equipment.”
The first day of the course, the instructors assist the students with installing the system on the Husky. They brief the unit’s leadership on the equipment, and then spend the rest of the day discussing the systems various parts and functions.
The second and third days of the course, the instructors take the students out to training lanes with the newly installed equipment. There, the students have to drive the vehicles over a variety of terrain and soil surfaces attempting to locate pre-placed training IEDs.
The instructors continue to build on the training on day four. They take the whole route-clearance unit out to the training lanes and let the leadership and Soldiers train together with their new equipment. The unit has to work as a team and communicate well, to locate and dig-up mock IEDs using both the Husky and Buffalo vehicles.
According to Shanle, the intent of the lanes is to make the training as realistic as possible.
“We use metallic and non-metallic mines and IEDs, as well as actual IEDs that Soldiers have located on route clearance missions,” he said. “It’s as realistic as it can be. It’s a huge confidence builder for the students knowing that the IEDs they are finding are actually just like the ones they will be seeing when they are out on route clearance missions.”
The GPR systems were first used on missions in 2008, and since then more and more of them have been installed and successfully used by route clearance units. The plan is to have nearly 200 of the systems in use in Afghanistan by May 2011, said Shanle.
So far, Soldiers who have used the system seem to really enjoy it.
“The GPR system is fantastic,” said U.S. Army Pfc. Matthew J. Berney, a heavy equipment operator and native of Scottsdale, AZ, attached to the 161st Equipment Support Company, 27th Engineer Battalion, 20th Engineer Brigade. “The difference in this system and the old system is just night and day. This is something we should have had a long time ago. It gives the Husky a chance to show its worth in country, and it gives me a lot of confidence to go out and find IEDs.”
Although each system costs nearly a million dollars, Shanle said they are worth every penny.
“This is a very effective system that has about a 95-percent accuracy rate,” he said. “It’s not perfect. But nothing is, and that ratio is outstanding. The bottom line is this system saves lives, and you can’t put a price on that.”